Florence County sheriff's deputies seized $6 million worth of cocaine in a traffic stop on Interstate 95 this week, according to the sheriff's office. Two New Jersey residents were arrested on cocaine-trafficking charges.
The deputies made the traffic stop at 10 a.m. Tuesday in the northbound lanes of Interstate 95, according to the sheriff's office. Maj. Mike Nunn of the Florence County Sheriff’s Office said an officer made the stop after seeing a vehicle cross over the fog line, which could indicate a driver is impaired or fatigued.
"After developing reasonable suspicion of ongoing criminal activity, obtained consent to search the vehicle," Nunn wrote in a media advisory. "The search of the vehicle resulted in the discovery of 125 pounds (field weight) of powder cocaine packaged in 50 separate units of approximately 2.2 pounds each. The estimated street value of this amount of cocaine is approximately $6,000,000."
Ruddy Antonio Iglesia, 35, of 18 Harbor Terrace Apartments, Perth Amboy, and Franklin Benjamin Lamtigua, 41, of 566 Groom Street, New Jersey, were charged with one count each of trafficking in cocaine.
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The Florence County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Enforcement Unit consists of officers trained to observe specific indicators of criminal activity during traffic stops, according to Nunn. If a driver commits a moving violation, which could be anything from speeding to tailgating, an officer can initiate the traffic stop. Nunn said these stops are usually ordinary.
“Of the high volume of traffic stops these officers make, the vast majority of them are law-abiding public,” Nunn said. “These stops provide a baseline for officers to recognize the typical operator reaction during a traffic stop.”
Sometimes a traffic stop is unusual and a deputy observes in the driver or passenger elevated stress levels, extreme nervousness or other indicators consistent with smuggling, Nunn said.
“A vehicle owned by a third party that is not present on a long trip, an overabundance of air fresheners in a vehicle especially in a rental vehicle, the operator says they are going on a trip but there is no luggage in the vehicle, the driver and passenger have different versions of where they have been and where they are going,” Nunn said. “None of these indicators taken in isolation are indicative of any wrongdoing, but when you see them build on top of each other it can lead to reasonable suspicion of criminal activity.”
Nunn said the officers in the Florence County Sheriff’s Criminal Enforcement Unit are some of the best in the country. The specialized unit has been at the forefront of interdiction in South Carolina and has been recognized nationally, according to Nunn.
“This highly successful and nationally recognized Criminal Enforcement Unit continues to make us proud in their relentless pursuit of the criminal element. We will continue to do our part to stop the flow of illegal drugs into our communities and beyond,” Florence County Sheriff's Kenney Boone said in the media advisory.
“To us (this seizure is) just validation that what our officers do and how they are trained works,” Nunn said. “If it moves along the interstate and it’s illegal, stolen or wanted, they’ll find it.”
The New Jersey men were denied bond by a Florence County magistrate. According to Nunn, the minimum penalty for trafficking in cocaine is 25 years in prison, which cannot be reduced or suspended. That sentence could increase up to 30 years depending on the nature of the crime and include a $250,000 fine. The investigation continues and additional charges are possible, according to the sheriff's office.